More than one member of the Wellington Village Council gave vent to frustration about slow progress and pivoting plans at one of the village’s biggest development initiatives of the past decade, the 120-acre Lotis Wellington project.
“We’ve been waiting three years, and we haven’t seen a thing happen here,” Councilman John McGovern said at the council’s Tuesday, Nov. 7 meeting.
A day later, a team working with developers at the Lotis Group told the village’s Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board that they want to drop approved plans for assisted-living and other senior accommodations and roughly double the number of multi-family residential units to 378 on a portion of the project known as Lotis 1. These would include two-story apartments, some with private garages.
To make the revised plans happen, developers sought changes to village rules. On first reading Nov. 7, the council voted 5-0 to allow up to 60 percent of a mixed-use project to be devoted to a one use kind of use, regardless of acreage. The change was requested by the developer.
Village revisions in recent years have limited a single use in some cases to 30 percent, depending on project size. That would put a crimp in plans to devote nearly 60 percent of a proposal to housing.
Such uses can include single-family homes, multi-family residences, retail, restaurant, assisted living, medical services and more. Conservation, involving creating or preserving bodies of water and green space, would be clarified under the change as one of those recognized uses.
A second reading is set for December, though some irritation emerged for a project on prime land west of State Road 7 and north of Forest Hill Blvd. that won initial approval in 2020 based on somewhat different proposals than are appearing now.
“That’s Developer 101,” Councilman Michael Drahos said. “They continue to water down on the project and water down on the project, and eventually you get something that wasn’t even pitched the first go-round.”
The pandemic and other factors threw curveballs into the process, explained Jim Gielda, representing the Lotis Group. Blending successive land purchases, packaged as Lotis 1 and Lotis 2, has introduced challenges to coordinate everything from drainage and road access onto State Road 7 to figuring out a mix of uses that will prove successful on the combined property.
“Has this taken longer than I would like it to have taken? Absolutely,” Gielda said. “There’s a lot of intricate things behind the scenes of putting this thing all together so it works as one, cohesive 120-acre project.”
Mayor Anne Gerwig said she understands any rule changes approved now could wind up putting a significantly different project before a future council, but she did not see that as a reason to deny the request. A future council still has the power to approve or deny the eventual proposal, she said.
“In this case, I like the flexibility of having a better project in the end,” she said.
Drahos asked, “Flexibility for the developer or the community?”
Gerwig replied, “It’s for both.”
Both Gerwig and Drahos will be stepping down from the council due to term limits in a few months.
Councilwoman Tanya Siskind backed the mayor’s assessment, saying that the village retains control over the final product.
A few moments later, Drahos addressed the issue again.
“I can’t help publicly declare while I have the opportunity that I’m frustrated with Lotis,” he said. “I’m frustrated that it has been sitting there for three years.”
McGovern agreed, adding how he recalled hearing one piece of the project was supposed to be completed by Christmas 2023. He said he understood pandemic issues and difficulty getting financing for certain aspects of the project, but he predicted a “substantive” discussion when the issue comes before the council again in December.
The part of the project known as Lotis 1 sits on about 65 acres.
At the Nov. 8 meeting, the Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board was presented a summary of what has been approved for it. That includes 48,000 square feet of combined restaurant and retail, 40,000 square feet of medical offices, 16,700 square feet of professional office space, 191 multi-family residential units, 150 independent-living and 110 assisted-living beds, daycare for up to 210 children, and 28 acres of open space including a lake and a cypress preserve.
Developers want to remove senior-living components and increase multi-family residential units to 378, the panel learned. They would increase medical office space by 10,000 square feet and add a dog park. Village staff recommended approval.
“There’s been sentiment it maybe hasn’t moved as quickly as would be hoped,” said Brian Terry, a landscape architect with Palm Beach Gardens-based Insite Studio, working with Lotis. “We have the same sentiment, but we’re getting close to the point where you will see the fruition of all this hard work that everybody has put in.”
He mentioned difficulties in lending markets, higher interest rates and changes in market demand for needs such as senior care as reasons to reset strategy. The planning board approved the Lotis 1 changes unanimously.
The latest request for Lotis 2, on more than 50 acres north of Lotis 1, asks for 100 single-family residential units, 72 multi-family units, along with a 36-hole miniature golf course, 8,000 square feet of restaurant and retail, and a little more than 1,000 feet of general office space. It also relocates the daycare facility from Lotis 1 to occupy 18,000 square feet and serve more than 200 kids.
PZA Board Member John Bowers asked if the mini-golf proposal touted as coming from a provider promoted by famed golfer Tiger Woods could be guaranteed by imposing village conditions. Staff members said no. They did not see how they can write conditions that require a specific provider of mini-golf amenities.
In public comments, Nicole Stevens, who said she lives in the neighboring Black Diamond community, raised concerns about construction, noise, and more vehicles from dense housing, entertainment and retail. “The traffic is almost unbearable,” she said. “Now we’re talking about adding more homes, more apartments.”
Project representatives said they would comply with village standards for noise and operating hours. The planning board also approved the Lotis 2 proposal by a unanimous vote.